UK's Plymouth City and Bristol Filton to Close

THE RESPECTIVE owners of two British airports have announced their facilities will be shut down.
The Sutton Harbour Group (SHG), owner of Plymouth City Airport, UK, has announced that the airport will close in December. The economic downturn and: “challenges for the UK regional aviation market” were blamed for the decision.
SHG took over the running of the airport in 2000 and subsequently launched Plymouth-based Air Southwest in 2003. The group says that the airport had suffered: “significant losses in recent years” and was facing a £1m loss over the next year.
The airport’s closure has looked inevitable since Air SouthWest ended its daily services to London Gatwick in February due to a fall in passenger numbers resulting from the introduction of competing services from Newquay Cornwall Airport to London. It is estimated that Plymouth’s daily passenger figures have now declined to below the 100 people per day.
The key factor affecting the airport’s commercial viability is its relatively short runway, which severely limits the types of airliner that can operate from Plymouth. Previous opportunities to have Plymouth City’s runway extended have been missed and, eventually, this meant that the airlines using Plymouth were unable to introduce the larger, most cost-effective, airliners used by competitors from Newquay Cornwall and Exeter airports. This made the Plymouth services more expensive than the competition’s and started the airport’s gradual decline.
SHG, which holds the airport’s leasehold, says that it has worked with freeholders Plymouth City Council, but: “no viable solution has been found.”
The group’s CEO, Nigel Godefroy, said: “Plymouth City Airport, like many regional airports in the current environment, is unviable as a commercial enterprise.
This has been an incredibly difficult decision given the efforts by so many, including our own staff, to give the airport a future.
We have always fought for Plymouth’s air links and sought to do our best for the city and its people, our employees and shareholders, but the usage of the airport simply does not support the high cost of operation.”
He said that the airport site could be given over for housing, although he emphasised that this was not SHG’s “specific intention” and added that, “If that was our intention we would have done that many, many years ago.
We will sit down with the local authority and see what their intentions are for the site.”
Some of the airport’s land already looks set to become a housing estate as a £38m project to build homes on the airport’s now disused second runway is at the planning stage. However, a council statement said that under the terms of the lease the airport hasuntil late December to explore all its options and has been working closely with Sutton Harbour to try to secure a sustainable future for the airport.
This has included talking to different potential airport operators, 16 commercial airlines as well as the Civil Aviation Authority to examine all possible models for the future running of the airport.”
Air Southwest has said that it will continue to operate flights from Plymouth until its closure and, after that, will maintain services from Newquay.
Also in the south-west of England, BAE Systems has announced that Bristol’s Filton airport will close at the end of 2012 after an evaluation of its economic viability.
A BAE Systems’ spokesman said that all the airfield’s users and Filton Airport’s 19 employees had been told of the closure.
The airfield, which opened in 1910, has always been an aircraft production facility rather than a commercial passenger operation. It was at the forefront of British commercial aircraft manufacturing for 30 years and housed the country’s Concorde production line during the 1960s and ’70s. However, as the UK’s aircraft manufacturing role diminished from whole airframe to component production, Filton’s fortunes, along with those of several other similar manufacturing facilities, have gradually declined. In terms of flight operations, since the 1980s Filton has been primarily used by corporate passengers, for training flights and aircraft maintenance operations.
Airbus, which makes airliner components at Filton and uses the airfield to fly some of theses items out, said it had been in contact with BAE over the decision and was: “working to ensure a smooth transition to new working systems and practices.”
A spokesman said: “We’re confident that once the airfield closes we will have in place a range of effective mitigation measures that will allow our work here to continue effectively and efficiently, without any major disruption.
Airbus is fully committed to its site at Filton, which is a global centre of engineering and design excellence. This is clearly illustrated by our recent decision to build a multi-million pound business park at Filton and the continued investment in state-of-the-art facilities, such as the A350XWB Landing Gear Test Facility.”
BAE Systems issued a statement saying that it regretted the impact it would have on its 19 employees and added: “We will work with them to explore employment opportunities.”
A company spokesman added: “We recognise the importance of Filton airfield to the local residential and business community and understand the concerns its closure may have.”
Bristol Lulsgate, the city’s main passenger airport, is not affected by the decision.